Mrs-O.com is a blog dedicated to chronicling the fashion and style of First Lady Michelle Obama. Founded September 2008. 


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When Mamie Went on Vacation

Photo from the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library

As the Obama family gets ready to vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, we thought it is an ideal time to look back at previous First Ladies to see how they dressed during their vacation time.


First Lady Mamie Eisenhower liked to relax on the weekend farm, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, she shared with her husband, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In July, 1956, she invited the White House staff to a lawn buffet supper party at the farm. For the occasion—which was also the wedding anniversary of the Eisenhowers—she chose a patterned shirt waist dress. Its distinctive silhouette, with a fitted waist and a very full skirt, married the popular informal dress style of the late 1940s with the mid-1950s New Look introduced by French designer Christian Dior.


We can’t help but notice that Mrs. E’s dress bears some similarity to the Tracy Feith dress that Mrs. O wore to the National Cathedral on January 21, 2009. Both dresses have graceful scoop necks and lively fantasy patterns. And we also see a harbinger of the current layered necklace look in Mrs. E’s mix of pearls and a locket.


Mrs. E was known as a vivacious hostess and she certainly appears here to embody a fresh, fun approach to her times. Little did she know that while she wearing the de rigueur style of the day, she was also modeling the shape of things to come.


Post by Mrs. C

References (1)

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Reader Comments (20)

What a great idea Mrs T! I liked the run up to the Inauguration that you did with the First Ladies dresses and this is a great idea too. Looking forward to seeing all the others as well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 11:05 AM | Registered CommenterPosh Tater

Thanks Posh Tater. The credit goes to Mrs. C though! It was her idea and a great one. :o)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterMrs. T

I love this style of dress. Anyone know where you can find styles like this now or patterns?

And yes, it's so cool that Mrs. O seems to have embodied the role of first lady llike so many. Sometimes a fashion statement is the smartest one you can make!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterAnn-Marie Stillion

What a marvelous idea! And this is an absolutely beautiful photo. Thanks, Mrs. T and Mrs. C.

I was young during the Eisenhower administration, so I wasn't paying a lot of attention to first lady fashion back then. But I had always remembered Mrs. E as being rather plain and frumpy because she was succeeded by the fabulous and glamorous Mrs. JFK who tended to put everyone else in shadow. So this photo, along with your blurb, gives me a new appreciation for Mrs. E! Thanks again.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 11:25 AM | Registered CommenterMsG

Great post Mrs. C! Love all the history. Who knew Mrs. E was so fashionable? Love the dress and the layered necklaces. Pres E looks dapper as well! Mrs. O's Tracy Feith dress does have the same look about it.
What a fun picture, thanks.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 11:47 AM | Registered Commenterann#1

Alas, your historical perspective is as narrow as Jackie O's waist. True, Mrs. Kennedy forever changed the image of the proper First Lady, but Mamie Eisenhower was, in fact, was a style-setter in her own right. When Mrs. Eisenhower framed her face in tint bangs, legions of women stormed their salons, eager to copy her little wisps. When she showed up in a parade of blush-colored dresses, the hue became so popular that it was was dubbed "Mamie pink." More, the shade tinted the entire decade, everything from lipstick tubes to bathroom sinks. Unlike Michelle Obama, Mamie didn't give speeches -- she held just one press conference during the eight Eisenhower years -- and unlike Lady Bird Johnson, she didn't take up any cause (except for Ike). But just as surely as Nancy, Jackie and Michelle, she influenced the look of her generation.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 12:25 PM | Unregistered Commenterfloater

Is it just me, or does it seem like I've seen MO wearing this same style of dress? Not the Feith dress; I'm thinking about the...oh, lord, I'm blanking...it's maybe by Kors, has a dusty purple large floral-like pattern, I think she wore it when she came back from Europe and was getting off the plane?

Anyway, I think this is a flattering style for many women.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 12:26 PM | Registered CommenterChristina

The other common history is that Mrs. E's mother Elvira Dowd lived for considerable time at the WH during her son-in-law's administration. She spent the winters in Washington to get away from the harsh weather in Denver. I grew up in Denver, Mamie's home town, during the Eisenhower admin. The Eisenhowers always spent a few days each summer in Colorado. Ike went fishing up in the mountains near Fraser with Axel Nielson and some other cronies while Mamie stayed with her mother at the family house in Denver. The docile media of those days portrayed this in a very appealing, folksy way with photos of Ike in fishing waders and a crumpled hat or frying trout on a camp stove and Mamie in various patio dresses relaxing with her mother.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 12:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterNakajima

New photos up on Daylife.com from today's reception at the WH for Justice Sotomayor: http://www.daylife.com/photo/06tQglt7Q3ce6?q=michelle+obama

Love saying:
President Obama
First Lady Michelle Obama
Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 12:44 PM | Registered Commentermarabout40

Oh, this was the dress I was talking about in my prevous message:


Anyway, thanks for spotting that photo, Marabout40! I like the return of my favorite brooch of hers, that turquoise flower.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 12:50 PM | Registered CommenterChristina

Christina - you are right. Michelle wore that dress the day the Bidens were "introduced" and also on the flight home.

And to Anne-Marie: Claire McCardell was the American designer who really put this kind of dress on the map in this country, - I'm thinking in the 50s (who knows? Mrs. E could be wearing one!), although Dior and other European designers were doing the look in higher-end fabrics. It should not be hard to find McCardell-influenced patterns. She is a real icon. Another idea: Isaac Mizrahi is doing the Liz Claiborne line now, and it is carried at Macys. He did a lot of this look in his '09 spring/summer line. Very cute things - but I have a soft spot for Isaac.

Now I have a question: I thought a shirtwaist was a dress that had a button front, collared bodice, often with a full skirt. It literally looked like a shirt on top. I think of these scoop neck dresses as just, well, dresses. Thoughts, anyone??

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 12:50 PM | Registered Commenteroperafanatic

I just found a great article on the shirtwaist phenomenon at www.clotheslinejournal.com/shirtwaist.html

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 1:06 PM | Registered Commenteroperafanatic

It is just me, I think Mrs. O is abandoning the belt. She has not worn a belt since she came back on her last foreign trip.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 1:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJay

I think you're right, operafanatic. By that standard, the dusty-purple-floral dress is more a shirtwaist, perhaps, than the very lovely dress that Mamie Eisenhower is wearing...then again, Mamie's dress *could* have buttons and maybe I just can't make them out in the picture.

That article you linked to (it's .htm, for others, not .html) reminds me of my love of hats and gloves. Of course I don't wear hats and gloves. But I love that look. How did THAT happen? Watching too many old movies, I guess. I miss the concept of women having a "public" look (hats, gloves, a little purse) and a private look. Nowadays, I see the occasional woman walking around in sweatpants, curlers and house shoes and I think, okay, that's taking comfort just a leeetle too far.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 1:31 PM | Registered CommenterChristina


My definition of "shirtwaist" is the same as yours. I wouldn't call this dress a shirtwaist--just a lovely dress.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 1:33 PM | Registered CommenterMsG

Love this photo. I have read that Mamie had a custom "Eisenhower Toile" designed for her during Ike's administration and I wonder if this dress is made from that fabric. It had scenes from their lives printed on -- probably in various shades of pink! This looks like it could be it.

I've also recently read an old book by a woman who was a seamstress at the White House ("Backstairs at the White House" I think it's called) back in the day and she has some very interesting comments on Mamie. Apparently she was REALLY a fanatic about the color pink, and quite the stickler!

Could there be any two first ladies more different than Mamie Eisenhower and Michelle Obama -- and yet they both look great in this kind of dress. That tells me I need to go find one for myself.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterCampbell

@ Operafanatic

Thanks for posting that link to the Shirtwaist Dress. I am so loving Image #7: Harpers Bazaar, April 1947. I can wear that entire look, shoes and all!

And if anyone saw "Under the Tuscan Sun" Diane Lane wears a similar style in white and then yellow. (To die for)!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 2:51 PM | Registered CommenterRocky

Sorry but Mrs. Eisenhower did, indeed, have a cause, heart disease. She did a great deal to raise the nation's consciousness of the risk factors and symptoms of heart disease which was exploding in the 1950s. The President's heart attack during his first term, obviously, was an important motivation for her in this regard

Wednesday, August 12, 2009 at 4:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterNakajima

Jay I don't think that's quite accurate. She wore a dress with red cummerbund and a red dress with a red belt so far. Plus we didn't see her on her trip to Philadelphia. I hope she hasn't dropped the belts - there have been at least two outfits in dire need of one.

Mrs C I'm so sorry! Acknowledgements to you for a splendid idea and article. Many thanks!

Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 10:08 AM | Registered CommenterPosh Tater

I am in my early twenties, and never lived through the era when this style of dress was poppular. Even so, I've always been a fan. It's very Mrs. Cleaver, and just seems os airy and bright. J'adore! :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterCafe Fashionista

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